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West Indies gambled on Russell's knees and it hasn't worked

It's all over for Dre Russ at this World Cup Getty Images

Mashrafe Mortaza is a warrior, a fighter. That's what his coaches call him. For an age he has battled knee injuries that should have kept him out of the game. Ryan Harris was much the same; one of his last Tests he won struggling through the crease to beat South Africa, erasing the last bits of cartilage from his knees. They are heroes just for getting to the crease.

Andre Russell is not seen as one. Some fans have accused him of being soft, of faking his injuries, or of doing it all for attention. Every limp, tumble or early exit from the ground is met with someone doubting his sincerity.

Russell has himself to blame for some of this. The drugs ban did not help. And he has also not been available for long periods because of problems with Cricket West Indies and because he wanted to make more money in franchise cricket.

Of course, Mortaza might have been tempted to be a T20 star had he been in more demand, and Harris was a well paid player for Australia - who once signed as a Kolpak in England. Shane Warne and Shoaib Akhtar both had suspensions under drug violations, which did not seem to lessen fans' appreciation.

But despite all that, many will never forgive Russell for prioritising T20 over everything else. He may be one of the most entertaining and skilled players around but he is also one of the most polarising.

A different Russell was on show this World Cup. Cricket's most spectacular athlete came into the tournament injured. West Indies took a gamble on him regardless, and he spent more time off the field than on it. His body is not up to ten overs, or even six or seven, but his team need him, and he bowled through pain, went on and off the field, and occasionally fell at the crease, only to keep coming in again.

"Russell has taken a wicket every 23 balls, and almost every time he has been on, West Indies have looked a better team. He is not as fast as Shannon Gabriel or Oshane Thomas, but he is a smarter bowler, and always a wicket-taking threat"

West Indies gambled on him. Russell gambled on his future. And before West Indies are officially out of the tournament, Russell is going home.

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"How many overs did Andre Russell bowl? You were the one who said he was injured. I saw him bowl every time the captain asked him to bowl, and he looked like getting wickets every time the captain asked him to bowl." That was West Indies assistant coach Roddy Estwick after a journalist asked about Russell's fitness following the loss to Bangladesh.

Estwick is a retired fast bowler with retired fast bowler's knees. He knows Russell is crocked, because he has eyes, but he also knows that Russell has been available almost every time they have asked him. Sure, his run-up became a hobble-up, his follow-through included a limp, and he was stationary during some of his fielding efforts. But he did what West Indies wanted in this tournament; they wanted him to bat in the middle order and deliver some overs.

He was in the team to hit the ball a long way and to take wickets. No one was expecting him to bowl ten overs or construct patient innings. In 56 ODIs he has only ever bowled out his full quota seven times. West Indies were looking for an impact player, and Russell is that.

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He was one of the greatest athletes in cricket. Lithe but powerful, like a tall super-middleweight boxer. The Russell of today is not like that. He is far bigger than before - bulkier; his thighs and shoulders have grown and he is built more like a baseball slugger than the Russell of before. There is more of him, and it all seems to move slower.

And there are his knees. The problem with them seems to be a lack of cartilage, like with Harris and Mortaza. Kapil Dev had his cartilage removed when he was playing, and he believes it cost him five to seven years of bowling.

Fast bowling is a cruel thing to put a healthy body through. There is a large amount of force going through the front leg on initial contact, which needs be absorbed by ankle-joint motion or knee-joint flexion. The problem for Kapil, Harris and Mortaza was, their natural shock absorbers were not there or were greatly diminished, which means the femur was crashing into the tibia. Harris kept bowling until his tibia cracked from the pressure.

Unlike other knee injuries, like tears to your anterior cruciate or medial collateral ligaments, you can continue to bowl with no cartilage; you just do it with pain.

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Defiant Andre Russell looking to prove a point at the World Cup

An emotional Andre Russell said he has come back stronger after his doping ban and wants to help West Indies lift the World Cup

One thing you hear about Russell from some doubters is: "He can't be that injured if he's bowling at 90 miles an hour." But they're wrong. Harris remained quick right until the end. And Mortaza's speed has dropped only a few miles an hour over a decade or so of knee trouble. You can still bowl; it just hurts. Chances are Russell and Mortaza will both need knee replacements when they are older. Both of them move as if they need them now.

In T20 cricket Russell's primary skill these days is batting. In this World Cup he only batted three innings and faced 29 balls. The batting he does is literally hit or miss; three chances are probably not enough. The one time he got a start was against Australia, and he let Mitchell Starc play on his ego then.

Where he was good was with the ball. Against Pakistan they only needed Russell for three overs, in which he took two wickets. Pakistan fell apart so quickly that using Russell again was pointless. The time they really needed him was against Australia.

In his first spell there, he took the wicket of Usman Khawaja, after he hit the batsman. That original spell was only three overs, and Australia were in huge trouble. But Russell had also taken a tumble when he bowled.

It's not that uncommon for some bowlers to fall; Mark Wood spends a great deal of time watching the batsman from the turf. But with Russell's knees, any big knock and they seem to stiffen up. He gingerly delivered one more over and then went off the ground, with West Indies on top.

But they didn't stay on top. Twenty overs later Australia were doing well again, so Russell came back. Straightaway he took the wicket of Alex Carey - playing perhaps his best knock for Australia. In the same over he almost had Nathan Coulter-Nile twice.

Before the tournament, West Indies had talked about the plan to bowl Russell in short, sharp spells. They were using someone who really hadn't played ODI cricket since 2015 and had a horrible knee injury, so it was obvious. Also, to get the most pace out of Russell - even when he is fully fit - short spells are best.

"Fast bowling is a cruel thing to put a healthy body through. There is a large amount of force going through the front leg on initial contact, which needs be absorbed by ankle-joint motion or knee-joint flexion"

West Indies - Russell included - also knew that with Coulter-Nile in, they had almost finished Australia. They were so close to victory. So Russell bowled another over. And another. As he started his fourth over on the trot, the press box started looking around, confused. When he came on for his fifth, it felt like West Indies were gambling their entire campaign on this spell. After each over Holder asked him how he was doing, Russell told him he was fine and that he could bowl one more.

In that fifth over, Russell was hit for six by Coulter-Nile. He started the day over 140kph, scaring Khawaja; he ended it around 130, hobbling, being flicked for six by a man who had never scored over 70 in a professional match. It may have been worth a try, but it didn't work.

The next game, Russell was left out, which hardly mattered as the rain came down. Against England, Russell came back, and after West Indies made a low total, came on to bowl second change.

His first over was the eighth. He shouldn't have been bowling. His first two balls were poor, he only got any real pace up once, and he hobbled into the field. He didn't come back on until the 11th over (like they wanted to give him one extra over of rest). The last ball of this over was a great bouncer that knocked Jonny Bairstow to the ground. But Russell fell to the surface too. Batsman and bowler had to be seen to. Bairstow batted on; Russell left the field.

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It was clear from very early on that England would make the total with ease. There was no reason for Russell to bowl again, but towards the end of England's chase he came back on the field and told the captain he was available to bowl.

Before the Bangladesh game, Russell didn't even make it to training. For that match, West Indies chose to use him ahead of Carlos Brathwaite.

Brathwaite's hundred against New Zealand probably made the decision easier for West Indies to send Russell home. With Brathwaite they get fielding, some decent line and length, and his own inconsistent, magnificent striking. The reason they opted for Russell in the first place is that Russell hits more often, and he has that extra pace.

West Indies believed their speed and height could take teams down this World Cup - and Russell was a part of that strategy. Russell has taken a wicket every 23 balls, and almost every time he was on, West Indies looked a better team. He is not as fast as Shannon Gabriel or Oshane Thomas, but he is a smarter bowler, and always a wicket-taking threat.

***

Against Bangladesh the West Indies openers are leaking runs, so Russell comes on first change. His first over goes for two; in his second he has the wicket of Soumya Sarkar. One over later, he is off the field.

Ten overs later, he pulls up before even delivering his first ball. He jogs back to his mark, although "jogging" might be overstating it. He falls over again when bowling and has to be helped up. After the over, he pauses mid-pitch, doubled over in pain, before trudging to midwicket. He continues to bowl, and as he heads back to his mark, Holder runs over and tries to gee him up; it would have been better if he had held him up.

When one quick short ball flies past the edge, Russell jumps in anticipation, thinking it was a wicket, but when he lands, you can almost hear the clang of his knees. He limps through an over and then leaves the field. The walk takes forever, and he can't even lift his legs properly over the padded triangles at the boundary.

When he comes back on, it is only to field. A ball is hit past him, and he runs after it, but it's not really running, and it won't work. A short while later a ball is mishit towards him - it floats up the way completely clunked cricket shots can do. Most the fielders on the field - Chris Gayle included - would have got to it. Russell doesn't even get close.

***

Russell's earnings per year are not publicly available. Many T20 teams and leagues pay guys at his level under the table. In the last year he has played IPL, PSL, BPL, T10, Global T20 and APL. His salary, before bonuses or sponsors, is probably around US$2 million.

Russell is 31, and his body severely limits the number of years he can earn this kind of money. Because of his suspension under the drug code, he has already missed a year. If he can't bowl, he can become a middle-order hitter on the T20 circuit and stick around for a while, but without his all-round package, he won't be as in demand, nor paid as much.

Given West Indian cricketers are among the lowest paid of the major nations, he is not at the World Cup for the money. While there are no other paydays he will miss out on - most cricket shuts down for ICC events - by playing here he is putting future earnings in doubt through injury or general wear and tear. Not to mention the damage he is doing to his knees beyond his cricket career.

Before the England game Russell batted in the nets for a long time. But he also spent just as long with the physio. His body looked like a car being used for parts, more than that of a functioning cricketer. Almost no one was in the nets; the pain he was showing wasn't for show.

It's easy to look down on the multimillionaire player who fell afoul of drug regulations and who wasn't always available for his team. But the easiest thing for Russell to have done would have been to stay at home and ice his knees in preparation for his next massive payday.

Instead, he tried, he fell, and the gamble hasn't worked.